Residents surrounding Fredenberg Lake in Duluth are expected to flood a St. Louis County planning commission meeting Thursday in Virginia, where a conditional-use permit that could allow a gravel pit will be on the docket.
The residents hope to derail a project that is proposed to operate day and night six days a week, and one they say would disrupt an idyllic place once sought by the residents and retirees who reside on the lake, located slightly more than a half-hour northwest of Duluth.
"Summertime is the most pristine time of the year, when we want to be outside or have our windows open," resident Patty Wheeler said. "Now, we're going to be listening to trucks hauling, backing up and beeping, hot mixing and have to contend with fumes from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., six days a week. It will affect everybody's quality of life that lives here. It's not why we live here."
Multiple sources said the sale of the 40-acre plot of land at 6464 Fredenberg Lake Road to an incorporated entity tied to Lakehead Trucking and Excavators of Fredenberg Township is contingent on the permit approval.
The owners of the residential property for sale, Mark and Brenda Toms, Lakehead Trucking, and St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson all declined to return calls or talk about the issue.
Nelson is the lone county commissioner on a planning commission made up of citizen appointees. Through his office's receptionist, Nelson said it was nothing beyond a routine planning commission issue. The meeting is scheduled for 9:45 a.m. Thursday at the St. Louis County Government Services Center in Virginia, 201 S. Third Ave.
According to a St. Louis County property details report, the home and land were assessed at $236,100 in 2019. Documents related to the conditional use permit show that the proposed gravel pit would be within 500 feet of the nearest home, that more than 25 trucks a day would haul out of the pit, and that the property would feature 10 parking spaces. It also calls for recycling asphalt provided a "mix plant" could be brought in.
Residents were notified this month that the lake home property could be repurposed as a pit. In an effort to deter the business, the Town of Fredenberg Board voted March 4 to close township roads to gravel haulers, implicating three of four roads with relative access to the property. It's not clear how effective the township's effort would be at preventing trucks from hauling in or out of the property.
The News Tribune learned of the issue from retired Pine Journal editor Wendy Johnson, who lives on the lake with her husband. She said residents are concerned not only about the noise and disruption, but other factors, too. She worries about traffic safety as trucks haul incessantly to fill orders.
She and Wheeler also noted that residents chipped in almost $4,000 each to pave Fredenberg Lake Road, and they worry about wear and tear from gravel hauling. Additionally, the property slopes to the lake and there is concern about runoff into surrounding wetlands and the lake.
"You have to see it to understand what's at risk," Johnson said. "We feel it doesn't flow with orderly development of the area."
Johnson submitted that northern Minnesota needs roads and that roads require gravel. But the residents who signed a petition to halt the permit don't believe it belongs buttressed against their backyards or the lake. Wheeler expects 15 or more residents to show up at the committee meeting.
"People have put their life savings into their properties, and for those of us lucky enough to live on the water they're going to put that at risk," Wheeler said. "It's 40 feet up from the wetlands that lead directly into Fredenberg Lake, which flows into Island Lake and right into the Cloquet River."
This story originally listed an incorrect business in place of Lakehead Trucking and Excavators. It was updated at 9:50 a.m., March 12, 2020. The News Tribune regrets the error.